Having been a Head of Knowledge, Managing Partner, teacher on the Nottingham MBA and now Consultant at 3Kites, Duncan is excellently placed to teach and share his experiences of process management in law firms and the management of the projects he ran.
It was a packed session, where Duncan took us through the basic theory and some process-based projects that he has run in the past, highlighting lessons from those that worked well and those that didn’t work as well as expected.
Obviously way too much to cover here, but I think my main learning points were:
- Consider joint working with clients where possible in relation to revamping processes. You may not realise what is really important to them and why it is important. Without their input, you may miss a valuable opportunity to focus efforts and pricing differently for better profitability.
- Try to think about the whole matter as a series of tasks. Whilst responsibility for a whole matter and client liaison may need to remain with a senior lawyer, do all the tasks need to be done by him or her? Always ask “Who did that? Did it need to be them?“.
- Make maximum use of paralegals, but keep in mind that, without growth to occupy the freed-up senior lawyers, this may lead to hard decisions regarding staffing.
- Work from the centre. A central view can help to spot similarities across traditional departmental lines. This is where PSLs and KMers can add significant value, having both an in-depth understanding of matter management and a broader understanding of the stocks and flows of knowledge within the business.
- Talk to all clients in depth about potential changes. Whilst some clients may always have been keen on bespoke treatment and their own house-style reports or documents, they should still be approached about the process-based, standardised alternative, as they may be keen on the improved pricing that follows from it.
- Try to be imaginative about processes and pricing. If you are struggling, try to think of ridiculous ideas as well as more practical ones, as these can spark new imaginative workable ideas.
Great places to start:
- Any regulatory frameworks or court requirements. The process is usually outlined and is mandatory, so fee earners will be used to working with it.
- Gain a couple of quick wins with easier processes and measure the improvements, particularly financial, in order to persuade other fee earners of the value.
- Look out for areas where there are competitive pressures. These are more ripe for change than those where the clients and lawyers are settled comfortably (although these can always be disrupted later).
- Use workshops of mixed staff to map processes. Swim lane diagrams are very useful as a visual aid. They often make inefficiencies obvious. Remember that partners and paralegals have different knowledge to offer, but both are valuable in describing the usual process. Maps will show you what can be automated, delegated, out-sourced or done at a low cost in-house location.
- Be wary of what is said to be the “usual process” and reasons given for anomalies. Look at the files to understand what is actually happening. Fee earners may think “X” is usual and “Y” is an anomaly, but if Y happens on 4/10 files, X on 4/10 files and Z on the other 2 files, you need to understand what is happening and why. You also need to get to the true reason for Y and Z. Don’t accept “surface” reasons such as “poor communication” or “lack of time”. Dig for the real operational reason.
Although not all law firms can afford project managers, and not all clients will pay for a project manager (although why pay for a lawyer to manage a project when a project manager is better at it?), lots of law firms can benefit from using project management techniques.
Think in particular about dependencies, time scales and cost, and change control.
- What activities outside the lawyer’s control that often mess up matters?
- Have an idea what you will do when X happens to derail your perfect plans.
- Although not all matters require a gantt chart or PID (project initiation document), many will benefit from a quick review at the outset thinking along those principles.
Or get a copy of my Projects book (project 3 is a process project).